The Seattle Sounders host the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday (7 p.m. PT; JOEtv, YouTube TV, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360AM; TICKETS) in Week 17 MLS action. Here are three matchups to watch, presented by Toyota.
Harry Shipp vs. Ali Adnan
A cerebral, versatile and technical player, Shipp can plug in across any of the five midfield spots. On Saturday, he’ll likely man the right side, where he’ll have to assist Kelvin Leerdam in shutting down Vancouver’s buccaneering left back, Ali Adnan.
On loan from Italian Serie A side Udinese, Adnan is a truly modern fullback. Dangerous and inventive going forward, he lacks some of the defensive nuances of a throwback wide defender. While he’s contributed five key passes, one assist and 16 successful dribbles across his last five games, he has also been partially responsible for five goals conceded across that same time span.
Shipp will need to strike the right balance between contributing to the attack and supporting Leerdam when Adnan bombs forward on the overlap. If he can manage that, there will be acres of space in behind the Vancouver left back to exploit in transition.
Stefan Frei vs. Fredy Montero
After a slow start to his second stint north of the border, Montero has helped turn Vancouver’s fortunes around midway through the season. The former Sounders striker has pitched in six goals and two assists for the Whitecaps, providing a focal point for the team’s host of creative midfielders.
Put simply, Frei will need to be locked in on Saturday in order for the Rave Green to pick up three points at home. With so many Sounders still away on international duty, Frei will need to be vocal with his defenders, organizing players who don’t have a ton of minutes together.
No worries, though, as Frei has a history of making world-class saves against Montero.
Gustav Svensson vs. Inbeom Hwang
Sometimes in soccer, you don’t realize just how important a player is until they’re gone. That goes double for defensive midfielders that rely upon their positioning and reading of the game. Svensson’s importance to the Sounders game model became even more evident throughout the four-game skid entering the international break.
A fully fit Svensson immediately tips the scales in favor of Seattle on Saturday. The Swedish international won’t have much time to ease his way back into proceedings, though, as he’ll be tasked with shutting down Vancouver’s Inbeom. The stats don’t tell the full story for the South Korean prospect — he has one goal and two assists from 17 appearances — as he’s one of the most talented attacking players in the league when he has time and space to operate. Svensson will need to track his movement across the midfield, immediately applying pressure as soon as he receives the ball in order to mitigate the Whitecaps’ threat on the counter.